UN expert calls for Bosnia and Herzegovina to speed up redress for women victims of wartime violence
“A very relevant fear shared by interviewed survivors of war-time rape and torture is the fact that time continues to pass by with no justice being served,” the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said following her eight-day visit to the Balkan country.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was the scene of heavy fighting during the ethnic conflicts that plagued the region in the 1990s. Fighting ended in October 1995, while the presence of UN peacekeepers monitoring a ceasefire opened the way for negotiations that led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement by the end of the year. However, the country remains largely decentralized, with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska forming its two main political entities.
In her remarks, Ms. Manjoo welcomed the country’s official initiatives to bring about redress for victims of wartime violence, but warned that its political fragmentation could slow progress.
“The full realization of women’s rights is impaired by the structure of the country’s political institutions and the fact that no State level authority has the jurisdiction to ensure the adequate implementation of the international human rights obligations adopted by the State,” she said.
Ms. Manjoo insisted it was “crucial for government authorities at all levels to recognize the existence of civilian women victims of rape and torture, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds, and to ensure that they have equal access to remedies and services, regardless of their physical location within the country.”
According to OHCHR, the initiatives welcomed by Ms. Manjoo included bids to adopt a Transitional Justice Strategy that aims to ensure access to justice and reparation for all civilian victims of war, including survivors of sexual violence; a Law on the Rights of Victims of Torture and Civilian Victims of War that is hoped will give civilian victims of war access to equal social benefits; and the development of the Programme for Improvement of the Status of Survivors of Conflict related Sexual Violence.
“I encourage the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to speedily finalize the adoption of these legislative and programmatic initiatives, and call on the authorities of both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska to actively participate in their implementation,” Ms. Manjoo said.
In the Special Rapporteur’s view, according to OHCHR, transitional justice actions should ensure the “public acknowledgment and memorialization of women victims, their access to compensation, including non-material damages, and their empowerment.”
Ms. Manjoo underlined that this was “particularly important considering the country’s overall economic situation and how unemployment and poverty impact all people, but women victims of violence in particular.”
The Special Rapporteur urged the Government “to ensure that the specific forms of sexual violence and the high prevalence rates experienced by women are adequately taken into consideration when implementing any initiatives to provide justice and effective remedies to victims.”
She also acknowledged the need to recognize the existence of male victims of war-time rape, OHCHR noted.
“As the government strives to assess and address the impact that the war had on men and how to ensure they do not place women at a higher risk of domestic violence, it should also recognize the experiences that women themselves faced during the war, and their entitlement to justice, reparations, and information and assistance on the missing and the disappeared,” Ms. Manjoo said.
During her visit, which took place between 29 October and 5 November, Ms. Manjoo met with representatives of State-level authorities, entity and cantonal level authorities of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, entity and municipal level authorities of the Republika Srpska, as well as representatives of civil society organisations, UN agencies, and the donor community, including victims associations and service providers.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Ms. Manjoo, are appointed, in an honorary capacity, by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. She is expected to submit her final findings and recommendations to the Council in June next year.